Maike Luhmann (PI) (Psychology, University of Cologne)

Wilfried Hinsch (Philosophy, University of Cologne)

Tanja Munk (Philosophy, University of Cologne)

Is happiness a choice? Can we be happy if we really want to? To date, neither philosophy nor psychology have provided a definite answer to this very old question. For instance, while some recent psychological studies suggest that happiness can be improved through specific activities, others indicate that trying to feel happy may result in decreased levels of well-being. The purpose of this research project is to integrate philosophical and psychological accounts in order to develop and test a new theoretical model on the pursuit of well-being. The basic premise of this model is that whether and how people pursue well-being depends on how they define well-being for themselves. Furthermore, we propose that these personal definitions of well-being can differ in terms of complexity. People with simple personal definitions endorse only few aspects of well-being (e.g., well-being as solely experiencing pleasure) whereas people with complex personal definitions endorse multiple aspects of well-being simultaneously (e.g., well-being as experiencing pleasure, finding self-fulfillment, being satisfied with life, and having a sense of purpose). According to our theoretical model, the degree of complexity of these personal definitions then determines whether people intend to pursue well-being, how they pursue well-being in everyday life, and how effective they are in improving or maintaining their actual levels of well-being. In our project, this model will be elaborated and tested empirically. In Phase 1, definitions of well-being discussed in philosophy and psychology will be reviewed. This interdisciplinary effort will result in a comprehensive list of well-being definitions that serves as the basis for developing a psychometric measure of people’s personal definitions of well-being. In two empirical studies (each with N = 200) in Phase 2, the reliability and validity of this measure will be examined and the measure will be modified if necessary. In Phase 3, the entire theoretical model will be tested empirically using experience sampling methodology. After completing a battery of baseline measures (e.g., personal definitions of well-being, actual levels of well-being, personality, sociodemographic background), N = 400 participants will be complete short questionnaires on their smartphones four times daily over a period of one week. In these questionnaires, they indicate their current well-being and report any well-being activities they are currently pursuing. All baseline measures will be administered again after the completion of the experience sampling period. In Phase 4, the theoretical model will be modified and refined in accordance with the results of these empirical studies. In sum, this project will advance our understanding of how people pursue well-being in everyday life and for whom and under which circumstances this pursuit can be successful.